Published: 1 Nov 2018
A number of companies and individuals have been referred to the National Crime Agency for suspected criminal offences committed during the EU referendum.
Following its investigation into funding for the 2016 EU referendum, the Electoral Commission has referred: Better for the Country, the organisation that ran the Leave.EU referendum campaign; Arron Banks; Leave.EU; Elizabeth Bilney; and other associated companies and individuals. The National Crime Agency has now launched a criminal investigation.
The investigation focused on £2m reported to have been loaned to Better for the Country by Arron Banks and his group of insurance companies and a further £6m reported to have been given to the organisation, on behalf of Leave.EU, by Arron Banks alone.
£2.9m of this money was used to fund referendum spending on behalf of Leave.EU and donations to other campaign groups during the EU referendum.
Following its investigation, the Commission has reasonable grounds to suspect that:
Mr Banks was not the true source of the £8m loans made to Better for the Country.
Loans to Better for the Country, on behalf of Leave.EU, involved a non-qualifying or impermissible company – Rock Holdings Limited, which is incorporated in the Isle of Man.
Arron Banks, Elizabeth Bilney and others involved in Better for the Country, Leave.EU and associated companies concealed the true details of these financial transactions.
A number of criminal offences may have been committed.
Due to multiple suspected offences, some of which fall outside the Commission’s remit, the Commission has referred this matter and handed its evidence to the National Crime Agency.
Bob Posner, Electoral Commission Director of Political Finance and Regulation & Legal Counsel, said:
“We have reasonable grounds to suspect money given to Better for the Country came from impermissible sources and that Mr Banks and Ms Bilney, the responsible person for Leave.EU, knowingly concealed the true circumstances under which this money was provided. This is significant because at least £2.9m of this money was used to fund referendum spending and donations during the regulated period of the EU referendum.
“Our investigation has unveiled evidence that suggests criminal offences have been committed which fall beyond the remit of the Commission. This is why we have handed our evidence to the NCA to allow them to investigate and take any appropriate law enforcement action. This is now a criminal investigation.
“The financial transactions we have investigated include companies incorporated in Gibraltar and the Isle of Man. These jurisdictions are beyond the reach of the Electoral Commission for the purpose of obtaining information for use in criminal investigations or proceedings.”
Background to the investigation
Better for the Country was set up in May 2015. It was not a registered campaigner in the EU referendum, but it ran Leave.EU’s campaign on its behalf. It received money on behalf of Leave.EU, and paid Leave.EU’s referendum expenses. A total of £8m was provided to Leave.EU and Better for the Country in late 2015 and early 2016. Leave.EU reported Arron Banks as the only source of £6m. Better for the Country told us that it received a loan of £2m from Arron Banks and his insurance companies that was being made available for the referendum.
Better for the Country gave some £2.2m to other campaigners, which were reported as donations. It spent at least £750,000 on campaign payments on behalf of Leave.EU.
As a result of ongoing regulatory work we announced an investigation into Better for the Country and Arron Banks on 1 November 2017. This looked at whether Arron Banks was the true source of the loans and whether Better for the Country was the true source of the donations made by it to others. The law is that loans and donations to registered campaigners can only come from certain permissible sources, which essentially excludes overseas or foreign funding from any consequent impermissible influence on the outcome of the EU Referendum.
Report on investigation into payments made to Better for the Country and Leave.EU
For more information contact the Electoral Commission press office on 020 7271 0704, out of office hours 07789 920 414 or [email protected]
Notes to editors
The Electoral Commission is the independent body which oversees elections and regulates political finance in the UK. We work to promote public confidence in the democratic process and ensure its integrity by:
enabling the delivery of free and fair elections and referendums, focusing on the needs of electors and addressing the changing environment to ensure every vote remains secure and accessible
regulating political finance – taking proactive steps to increase transparency, ensure compliance and pursue breaches
using our expertise to make and advocate for changes to our democracy,
aiming to improve fairness, transparency and efficiency
The Commission was set up in 2000 and reports to the UK and Scottish Parliaments.
The Electoral Commission has a range of enforcement powers under PPERA. Please see our website for more information on our regulatory work.
Any potential breaches of the rules which regulate non-political campaigners spending are considered in line with the Commission's enforcement policy. Once a month we publish details of any sanctions issued.